Sunday, February 5, 2012

Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood

There has been much woohooing after Komen’s rhetorical shift away from its announcement to withhold promised funds from Planned Parenthood. I think this event points out a number of current truths.

One is that citizen activism is alive and well, aided by social networking tools. One commentator on NPR remarked that Komen had damaged its brand, which I found a disgustingly shallow description of the idea that an organization like Komen relies on the consent of participants and donors who now have a swift and decisive way to demonstrate their disapproval.

I’m glad so many women rose up to defend Planned Parenthood. Millions of us have received care from the professionals there. I volunteered at the PP in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and knew the staff well enough to leap up and hug them when my pregnancy test came back positive (my pregnancy was planned and hoped for). When I hear male politicians rail against PP, I always wonder where the women are.

But to me the sad truth in the success of Planned Parenthood and Komen is that their work echoes against a failure of government. Komen is a private organization, and as such, is within its rights to fund anyone it chooses to. And Planned Parenthood, as well – even if 97% of its services were abortion, instead of the current 3% – can make those choices. The reason women feel so desperate about each organization is that there is a lack of accessible health care, cancer screening and cancer research for women in the public sector. So we cling to these private organizations like our lives depend on it.

And that sets up a power vacuum that can be manipulated, and not just politically. For example, industries that make and use BPA (bisphenol A), a plastic used in food/drink packaging with a suspected link to breast cancer, are funding Komen. And Komen is sending mixed messages about the link: nothing to see here. You can read more about the connection in this article.

We need publically funded, industry-neutral research on the connection between environment and cancer, and then we need courageous elected officials who will look Coca Cola in the eye and tell them that they are killing women, if the link is proven. And even if Coca Cola is underwriting politicians and media, we have to give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions. It’s insanity – it’s an outrage – that we are getting our essential health information in the alternative press because corporations are running our media, government, and apparently non-profits as well.

And finally, it’s time for us to grow up and work together on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in our country. No one is pro-abortion; we all agree on this. And it’s pretty obvious that making abortion illegal doesn’t prevent unintended pregnancy. In the 1950s, the teenage birth rate was twice what it is now. You can read about that here, along with comparative data on teen pregnancy rates in other countries. Of course it’s not just teens who become pregnant without intending to. Birth control fails, and people take risks. But with half the country living in poverty, a lack of affordable contraceptives is just exacerbating the problem. And so is poverty itself. Forcing women to keep children they can’t care for is not good for anyone. And even though there are loving couples who wish to adopt, there are more children languishing in the foster system than families willing to take them. This is no trivial statistic. A high percentage of those in our incarceration system come through foster care.

One-third of American women have an abortion at some point in their lives, including women of all races, socioeconomic statuses and religions. Let’s work hard to give girls the information they need to make choices throughout their lives. Let’s hold boys and men responsible for these pregnancies as well. And instead of keeping us locked in a culture war, let’s hold elected officials responsible for seeking solutions. Birth control availability and information, abstinence, adoption, work that pays living wages to families with small children, affordable health care and child care, opportunities for girls, and safe and legal abortion… we need all the solutions if we want to reduce the abortion rate as well as take care of the children who arrive in this world, wet and gasping and dependent on us.

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